10/31/2007 11:00PM

California's class of '07 holds its own nationally

EmailNot so long ago, it was possible to become California-bred horse of the year on the strength of a solitary victory in a Grade 1 or Grade 2 race with a few lesser stakes thrown in.

Those days are over.

This year, Lava Man and Nashoba's Key have each won two Grade 1 races, one more than fellow statebreds Bilo, Idiot Proof, and River's Prayer. Those five proved the leading California-breds of 2007 could race against the best in the nation.

Lava Man and Nashoba's Key are the leading contenders for California-bred horse of the year, which Lava Man won in 2005 and 2006. Several horses can gain support for divisional statebred titles Saturday during the California Cup program at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting. The winners will be decided by a vote of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association and presented early next year.

Here is a glance at the eight statebred divisions, with the three leading contenders for each listed in alphabetical order.

Older males

Greg's Gold

Lake George-Lake Windermere, Fit to Fight

* Owner-breeder: Bill Boswell

* Trainer: David Hofmans

Lava Man

Slew City Slew-Li'l Ms. Leonard, by Nostalgia's Star

* Breeders: Lonnie Arterburn, Eve and Kim Kuhlmann

* Owners: STD Racing Stable and Jason Wood

* Trainer: Doug O'Neill

McCann's Mojave

Memo-Joni U. Bar, by Nordic Prince

* Breeders: Nikki Hunt and Mike Willman

* Owner: Mike Willman

* Trainer: Steve Specht

By the standards of most top-class horses, Lava Man has had an excellent year, winning half of his six starts and $1,410,000. Along the way, he won the Santa Anita Handicap for the second consecutive year and the Hollywood Gold Cup for a record-equaling third consecutive year. But for Lava Man, this has been something of a subpar season. After all, in 2006 he won 7 of 8 starts and $2,770,000.

Still, his seven-figure paycheck this year makes him the top contender for a third consecutive California-bred horse of the year title. Lava Man can enhance his credentials with a victory in Saturday's California Cup Classic.

McCann's Mojave won the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park in January, but lost his next four starts, including a fourth-place finish behind Lava Man in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap in March.

Greg's Gold has been a top sprinter, winning the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien Handicap at Del Mar in August and finishing second in two late-season Grade 1 races. He was eighth on a sloppy track in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Monmouth Park over a course that he did not seem to handle.

There were other notable performances. Bilo won the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap for sprinters in July. Bordonaro won the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park in April, and Brego, by In Excess, won a stakes at Remington Park in September.P

Older females

Nashoba's Key

Silver Hawk-Nashoba, by Caerleon

* Owner-breeder: Warren Williamson

* Trainer: Carla Gaines

River's Prayer

Devon Lane-Cozzy Flyer, by Cozzenne

* Breeder: Vessels Stallion Farm

* Owner: Bantry Farms, Andy Capestro, Martin Racing Stable

* Trainer: Paula Capestro

Somethinaboutlaura

Dance Floor-Crystals of Ice, by It's Freezing

* Breeder: Lilley Ranch

* Owners: Jerry Hollendorfer, Charles Miller, John Sikura, George Todaro

* Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer

Nashoba's Key had a near-perfect season in major stakes around two turns, and River's Prayer's was unbeaten this season in sprints. Nashoba's Key won more Grade 1 races, and that will tell in the voting.

Behind them was a group of solid females, including Bai and Bai, Dancing Edie, and Somethinaboutlaura.

Bai and Bai developed rapidly in the second half of the year, winning the Solana Beach Handicap at Del Mar and the Las Madrinas Handicap at Fairplex Park, in between a second in the Grade 2 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar and a third in the Grade 1 Lady's Secret Stakes at Santa Anita.

Dancing Edie won the Grade 3 Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap in September and is scheduled to start in a stakes on Saturday's California Cup program or Sunday's Las Palmas Handicap. She was a Grade 1 winner last year and seems to be moving back toward that level this fall.

Somethinaboutlaura has won five consecutive stakes, including the Grade 2 A Gleam Handicap over seven furlongs at Hollywood Park during the summer. Similar to Nashoba's Key, who has won on turf and synthetic surfaces, Somethinaboutlaura is versatile, having won on a conventional dirt surface, turf, and synthetic tracks.

Somethinaboutlaura has won 6 of 8 starts and $400,095 this year and is best at distances ranging from a long sprint up to 1 1/16 miles. For a California-bred female, that is a major asset, since the division's big stakes are run over those distances.

Sprinter

Greg's Gold

Lake George-Lake Windermere, Fit to Fight

* Owner-breeder: Bill Boswell

* Trainer: David Hofmans

Idiot Proof

Benchmark-Perfectly Pretty, by Bertrando

* Owner-breeders: Marty and Pam Wygod

* Trainer: Clifford Sise

River's Prayer

Devon Lane-Cozzy Flyer, by Cozzenne

* Breeder: Vessels Stallion Farm

* Owner: Bantry Farms, Andy Capestro, and Martin Racing Stable

* Trainer: Paula Capestro

This was a vintage group of sprinters, and the list of three finalists could have easily included Bilo or Bordonaro.

Idiot Proof, on the basis of his runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Monmouth Park and win in the Grade 1 Ancient Title Stakes at Santa Anita, was the star of the group, but not by much.

It can be argued that River's Prayer deserves the title. All she did was go unbeaten in five starts and earn $610,175, winning the Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap at Calder and the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo Handicap at Del Mar. Her career was cut short by injury in the fall, which kept her out of the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

Greg's Gold won the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien Handicap at Del Mar and was beaten by less than a length in two other Grade 1 stakes - a nose loss to In Summation in the Bing Crosby and a trouble-marred loss by three-quarters of a length to Idiot Proof in the Ancient Title.

Bordonaro defended his title in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park in April, his lone victory this year.

Bilo won the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park in July but was sidelined for the rest of the summer because of a foot problem. Trainer Marty Jones is hoping that Bilo can return in Saturday's California Cup Sprint.

Indian Chant, by Suggest, won stakes at Prairie Meadows and Presque Isle Downs after leaving California in February.

Turf

Jack's Wild

Lil Tyler-It's Binnice, by Affirmed

* Breeder: Madera Thoroughbreds and Kjelstrom

* Owner: Venneri Racing

* Trainer: Jorge Gutierrez

Lava Man

Slew City Slew-Li'l Ms. Leonard, by Nostalgia's Star

* Breeders: Lonnie Arterburn, Eve and Kim Kuhlmann

* Owners: STD Racing Stable and Jason Wood

* Trainer: Doug O'Neill

Nashoba's Key

Silver Hawk-Nashoba, by Caerleon

* Owner-breeder: Warren Williamson

* Trainer: Carla Gaines

The princess shined brightest in 2007 among California-breds on turf. Even though Nashoba's Key was only fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare at Monmouth Park last weekend, she was outstanding on firm turf in California for trainer Carla Gaines and owner Warren Williamson.

In April, she won the Fran's Valentine Stakes against statebreds on California Gold Rush Day at Hollywood Park. In September, she won the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita.

Among the males, there was not a standout outside of Lava Man. In limited appearances on turf this year, Lava Man won the Sunshine Millions Turf against California-breds and Florida-breds at Santa Anita in January and was a game second to After Market in the Gradeo1 Charles Whittingham Handicap at Hollywood Park in June. Lava Man was sixth in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile on turf last month.

Lava Man and Nashoba's Key dominated the division. Behind them, the male side of the ledger was much deeper. Bold Chieftain, Bonfante, Brego, Epic Power, and Jack's Wild had shining moments.

Jack's Wild won the Crystal Water Handicap at Santa Anita in March and the California Turf Championship at Bay Meadows in August. He finished second in the Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap against open company in September.

Bonfante was excellent in turf sprints, winning the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap and California Turf Sprint Championship. Epic Power won the Khaled Stakes and Korbel Handicap at Hollywood Park during the spring-summer meeting, and Now Victory won two stakes in Northern California.

3-year-old males

Idiot Proof

Benchmark-Perfectly Pretty, by Bertrando

* Owner-breeders: Marty and Pam Wygod

* Trainer: Clifford Sise

Leesider

Bertrando-Sweet Paradise, by Storm Cat

* Breeders: Marty and Pam Wygod

* Owner: Super Horse, Inc.

* Trainer: Paddy Gallagher

Notional

In Excess-Truly Blessed, by French Deputy

* Breeder: Vessels Maturity

* Owner: Paul Reddam

* Trainer: Doug O'Neill

This group included an outstanding sprinter in Idiot Proof and a router in Notional, whose campaign was cut short by injury.

Idiot Proof will deservingly win the title. He had an outstanding campaign through October, beating older males for the first time in the Gradeo1 Ancient Title Stakes at Santa Anita and running a game second to Midnight Lute in the BC Sprint over a sloppy track at Monmouth Park last weekend.

If that is not enough, he set a track record of 1:07.47 for six furlongs in winning the Grade 3 Jersey Shore Stakes at Monmouth Park in July.

Even though Idiot Proof has been in training since the start of the year, beginning with a game second in the Sunshions Millions Dash in January, there may be more to come. Idiot Proof would be a natural for the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds over seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Dec. 26.

In a season cut short by injury, Notional won the San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita and the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds before finishing second in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. He was a well-regarded candidate for the Kentucky Derby before being sidelined, but is expected to return to training this winter.

Leesider took advantage of restricted company to have a strong season. He won a weak running of the Snow Chief Stakes for statebred 3-year-olds at Hollywood Park in April, but his season earnings total of $213,321 is worth noting.

Big Bad Leroybrown has had an excellent second half of the season, beating Idiot Proof in the Real Good Deal Stakes at Del Mar and finishing second in the Pomona Derby. Celtic Dreamin won 5 of his first 6 starts, including the British Columbia Derby, and Unusual Suspect won the Bay Meadows Derby in an active season.

3-year-old fillies

La Traviata

Johannesburg-Piedgras Negras, by Unbridled

* Breeder: John and Marsha Antonelli

* Owners: Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith

* Trainer: Patrick Biancone and Francois Parisel

Mistical Plan

Game Plan-Mistical Bel, by Bel Bolide

* Breeder: Carol Anderson

* Owner: Paul Reddam

* Trainer: Doug O'Neill

Spenditallbaby

Unusual Heat-Andover the Money, by Dynaformer

* Breeders: Abrams, Roberts, Nakkashian and Johnson

* Owners: Fiorito, Johnson, Roberts, et al

Long forgotten because of her absence, Mistical Plan began the season as a highly promising 3-year-old filly on the national scene.

She won the Sunshine Millions Oaks for California-breds and Florida-breds over six furlongs in January and the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks, a leading prep for the Kentucky Oaks, over 1 1/16 miles in March. Through the spring, though, her form tailed off with fifth-place finishes in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland and the Kentucky Oaks. Still, her season earnings of $421,569 are vastly higher than any of the other statebred 3-year-old fillies.

Mistical Plan was sidelined with injury after the Kentucky Oaks, and trainer Doug O'Neill is optimistic that she can return from injury for a 4-year-old season in 2008.

Through the summer, La Traviata emerged as a crack sprinter on the East Coast, winning the first three races of her career, including the Victory Ride Stakes at Saratoga, by a combined 27 1/2 lengths. The unbeaten streak ended with a sixth-place finish in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in the slop at Monmouth Park on Oct. 26.

Spenditallbaby did not miss many big races, and won the Fleet Treat Stakes for statebred 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar. Less than a week later, she was third in the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap.

On a lesser note, Swiss Current has had a respectable season. A candidate for Saturday's California Cup Matron, Swiss Current won the CTBA Marian Stakes at Fairplex Park.

2-year-old males

Georgie Boy

Tribal Rule-Ippodamia, by Peterhof

* Owner-breeder: George Schwary

* Trainer: Kathy Walsh

My Redeemer

Valid Wager-Hoist the Star, by Broad Brush

* Owner-breeder: Tommy Town Thoroughbreds

* Trainer: Doug O'Neill

Run Brother Ron

Perfect Mandate-Alohas Mangos, by Bold Badgett

* Breeder: SLU Inc.

* Owners: Philip Lebherz and George Schmitt

* Trainer: Jeff Bonde

The voting in this category essentially ended with Georgie Boy's victory in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 5. The win ended a remarkable summer meeting for the gelding, who won the Graduation Stakes for statebreds on July 25 and finished second in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 12.

But instead of pressing forward in the major races of the fall, trainer Kathy Walsh took Georgie Boy out of serious training in October, passing on races such as the Breeders' Cup Juvenile or Saturday's California Cup Juvenile. She recently said she was hopeful that Georgie Boy would benefit from the break and can develop into a contender for the major stakes around two turns for 3-year-olds early next year.

Georgie Boy showed an exciting late run in the seven-furlong Del Mar Futurity, closing from 12th in a field of 13 to win by a half-length over Salute the Sarge.

My Redeemer is a colt to follow. After finishing second in the Graduation Stakes and third in the I'm Smokin Stakes at Del Mar, he rebounded with a 16-length win in the Gateway to Glory Stakes over 1o1/16 miles at Fairplex Park in September.

Run Brother Ron, a winner of $102,007, has won two stakes - the Beau Brummel Stakes at Fairplex Park and the Everett Nevin Alameda County Futurity at Pleasanton.

Nevada Worrier started in four two-furlong races at Santa Anita and Bay Meadows, survived that brush with mediocrity, and won the Cavonnier Stakes over seven furlongs at Santa Anita last month. He is a contender for Saturday's California Cup Juvenile.

Others who have shown promise include Nene, the winner of the Barretts Juvenile Stakes; Sierra Sunset, the winner of the Bay Meadows Juvenile; Topper Shopper, the winner of the I'm Smokin Stakes; and Wise Mandate, the winner of the Jack Goodman Stakes at Santa Anita.

2-year-old fillies

Golden Doc A

Unusual Heat-Penpont, by Crested Wave

* Breeder: David Abrams

* Owners: Barry, David, and Dyan Abrams and Madeline Auerbach

* Trainer: Barry Abrams

Runforthemoneybaby

Unusual Heat-Andover the Money, by Dynaformer

* Breeders: Abrams, Johnson, and Nakkashian

* Owners: Michael Bello, Russell Sarno, Larry Williams

* Trainer: Jeff Mullins

Treadmill

E Dubai-Lady Lang, by Langfuhr

* Owner-breeder: Paul Reddam

* Trainer: Craig Dollase

This is a division without a clear leader, a situation expected to change in Saturday's California Cup Juvenile and through the fall.

Runforthemoneybaby has become a different sort of filly as distances have increased to routes. After losing her first two starts, Runforthemoneybaby won a one-mile maiden race at Del Mar Sept. 3 and was a closing third in the Gradeo1 Oak Leaf Stakes here on Sept. 29. The California Cup Juvenile over 1 1/16 miles will be an important test for her.

During the spring and summer, several fillies excelled in sprints around the country.

One Hot Wish set a world record of 48.87 seconds for 4 1/2 furlongs in her debut at Keeneland in April but never came close to duplicating that race.

Treadmill won the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association Stakes at Del Mar and finished second in the Landaluce Stakes at Hollywood Park but was pulled up in the Del Mar Debutante after apparently being kicked. She is on course for the $100,000 Moccasin Stakes at Hollywood Park on Nov. 11, trainer Craig Dollase said recently.

Golden Doc A won the Anoakia Stakes for sprinters at Santa Anita on Oct. 20 and may also start in the Moccasin Stakes.

Spring Awakening, second in the Del Mar Debutante, is likely to start at the Hollywood Park fall meeting.

Yogi'ssplashofgold, a California-bred by Touch Gold, is a promising sprinter, having placed in stakes at Churchill Downs and Belmont Park.